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Evaluation of Safeguarding Students Catalyst Fund Projects

27 Sep 2018 | Helen Baird All students in the UK deserve to feel safe on or off campus, which is why we are working with the Office for Students (OfS) to support the 119 Catalyst funded student safeguarding projects aimed at tackling sexual misconduct, hate crime and online harassment in higher education (HE).

All students in the UK deserve to feel safe on or off campus, which is why we are working with the Office for Students (OfS) to support the 119 Catalyst funded student safeguarding projects aimed at tackling sexual misconduct, hate crime and online harassment in higher education (HE).  Advance HE is the independent evaluator of the Catalyst student safeguarding initiative.  Our role in this project is to support and enable learning, exchange and dissemination of innovative and good practice, and help establish ‘what works’ in safeguarding students from and between the Catalyst-funded projects.

This Catalyst-funded support for student safeguarding is primarily in response to the recommendations from the 2016 Universities UK (UUK) Taskforce report Changing the culture: Report of the Universities UK Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students, which found that HE providers could be more systematic in their approaches and not every university had all of the necessary building blocks in place for effective prevention and response. UUK has an ongoing programme of work to support providers in this area, which included commissioning and publishing a progress report earlier this year Changing the Culture: One Year On by Advance HE.

The rationale for OfS’ Catalyst funding approach was to make a short-term diverse intervention, designed to support high coverage activity and thereby stimulate sector-level culture change. This was based on the recommendations for providers to undertake a coordinated set of actions as outlined by the UUK Taskforce’s report. The progress report Changing the Culture: One Year On found that the scale of the Catalyst funding has accelerated and supported positive change in student safeguarding across the English HE sector.

In our first main report from the evaluation, which is published by OfS today, we present a thematic analysis of the results of our research for the evaluation undertaken to date. The purpose of our report is to inform sector and institutional practice with the findings from what we have learned so far about ‘what works’ in safeguarding students. It contains many examples about student safeguarding practice and is focussed on the first cohort of Catalyst projects, which were mainly tackling student to student sexual misconduct and are mostly now completed.

We found that the overall contribution of the Catalyst funding for student safeguarding projects based on the evidence available so far is positive. The project teams are putting in place supporting infrastructure to address safeguarding issues using a variety of different approaches. This work is becoming embedded as part of ‘business as usual’ within some, though not all providers, with the majority focussing their efforts on training programmes designed to change attitudes and behaviours.  

Some of the key findings from the research to date include that the Catalyst funding has enabled the following to take place within HE providers to varying extents:

  • The ability to progress student safeguarding work more quickly and more comprehensively than would otherwise have been the case.
  • A break-down of misconceptions and barriers on safeguarding issues among staff and students.
  • Increased resources within providers committed to tackling safeguarding issues
  • The introduction of reporting mechanisms.
  • The development of tailored policies procedures to handle cases.
  • The introduction of more accessible services for staff and students.
  • Iterative ongoing training programmes for students and staff.
  • Closer institution-wide collaboration on safeguarding issues.
  • More sustainable partnerships in place with local and regional partners.

However, a key barrier to success widely commented on by providers, specialist partners and students, is that for real culture change to happen, conversations and interventions around gender-based violence need to take place earlier before students enter higher or further education. Further research would be helpful to understand what would work in HE providers’ interactions with schools and further education colleges to support earlier discussions taking place with young people.  

In summary, the Catalyst funding intervention was timely in that it helped maintain the momentum in the HE sector stemming from the work of the UUK Taskforce’s report. It has also benefited from the wider media and societal interest in sexual misconduct across multiple sectors. Moreover, the scale of the funding across over 100 projects in the sector meant that ‘there’s a huge safety in numbers’ for providers and their leaders to be more confident in openly tackling these issues.

The Advance HE team will be undertaking further research and facilitating information-sharing events for the evaluation focussed particularly on the second cohort of projects during autumn and winter 2018. These will include co-hosted events with UUK during National Hate Crime Awareness Week.

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